While Peyton Manning took center stage in Thursday night's '13 NFL season opener, it was Denver's Julius Thomas who will be in the spotlight during the waiver claim period in fantasy leagues following the conclusion of Week 1. The athletic third-year tight end started to build buzz with a strong preseason, but his '13 debut was beyond anyone's wildest expectations, as he hauled in five Manning passes for 110 yards and two scores. The performance may prove to be the high point of his '13 campaign, but the important takeaway is that he's established himself as a force to be reckoned with, and one that Manning can deploy with lethal results if defenses put too much focus on the Broncos' deeply talented stable of receivers. Thomas belongs in the TE1 conversation moving forward and, no doubt, represents an upgrade to what many fantasy owners are currently sporting at the tight end position.
Another winner from Thursday night is Baltimore Ravens undrafted rookie receiver Marlon Brown, who stepped up for injured teammate Jacoby Jones (sprained knee) with 65 receiving yards and a TD. Like Thomas, the 6-foot-5 Brown had a strong preseason, and he's situated to play a prominent role in the Baltimore passing game going forward. Consistency is likely to be an issue for the rookie, but his length paired with Joe Flacco's love of throwing the deep ball makes him worth Flex flyer consideration in deeper leagues.
On the flip side, Denver rookie running back Montee Ball was one of the big losers of the evening. Expected to have a significant role in a Broncos three-way backfield platoon, Ball was on the field for just 18 snaps, compared to 40 for Knowshon Moreno. While Moreno doesn't offer a lot of pizzazz, he's reliable, versatile and, most importantly, he's clearly the best of the backfield group at protecting Manning, which is the most important attribute any Broncos back can have. Ball owners need to bench him until further notice – as in, until he proves adept in pass protection.
The other obvious loser was Baltimore tight end Ed Dickson. The Broncos allowed the third-most fantasy points to the tight end position last season, and they were without defensive leader Von Miller, affording Dickson a big opportunity to make a splash in his first attempt to fill the shoes of injured TE incumbent Dennis Pitta. Unfortunately, he was out of sync with Flacco early on, and took a backseat after that to Dallas Clark, who saw 12 targets from Flacco and tallied 87 yards. Dickson will have better days ahead, but the threat of Clark makes him free-agent fodder.